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A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  181 ratings  ·  33 reviews
"Threading the subtle seam between what lives and what remains, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause succeeds in conjuring the poetry of Marcel Marceau's performance as both a character on stage and in history. . . . Like pulling a ghost from a dark room, this is an accomplished work of historical portraiture: precise in its objects, complex in its melancholy, and ...more
Paperback, 131 pages
Published July 11th 2017 by Sarabande Books
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Billed on its cover as an "essay," A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is really a bender of sorts, mixing poetic like entries with lists with paragraphs -- all divided and given titles -- in an intriguing way.

How do I know? I started it without realizing it was a "biography" (see "essay" above) of Marcel Marceau. Oh, man. Like most Americans, the thought of Marcel Marceau in white face feeling invisible walls (in this respect, he shares something in common with The Donald, who goes to
Vincent Scarpa
Apr 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edit: here's my interview with Shawn for Kirkus Reviews:

Before I get into the actual review, can I just be effusive for a minute and say how much I fucking love Sarabande Books? They have an uncanny gift for finding and publishing work of such stellar and singular quality, year after year after year. When I look at my "favorite books" shelf, I see that so many of my favorite books have been given a life by Sarabande: Jenny Boully's The Book of Beginnings
Andrew Dugas
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: past-reads
If you were an editor or lit agent and someone pitched you a "meditation" on the life and work of Marcel Marceau, you would have to ask for pages just to see if the author could pull it off. Well, Ms. Wen more than pulls it off, she hits it out of the ball park. (The real kind, not the imaginary mime kind.) Using terse yet poetic language, even her cataloging of Marceau's extensive collections shine. She makes fascinating the roots of mime in la commedia dell'arte, brings life to Marceau's perfo ...more
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific read on an unlikely character and topic: Marcel Marceau and mime. I learned a ton and enjoyed the genre-bending blend of poetry, biography, and screenplay.
Some gems:
"The mime keeps count in heartbeats and breaths"
"A telegram from the brain"
There are terrific poetic descriptions of dementia (p. 118) and of the circle of life (p. 131).
I had never heard of Pierrot and now realize how prevalent this white-faced sad clown has been across various art forms (mime, David Bowie, literature, et
Sonia Schoenfield
I don't think I've ever read a book like this one. But really, writing about the genius of Marcel Marceau demands a description that is out of the ordinary. The author, Shawn Wen, has created a gem of a book. A Twenty Minute Silence Followed By Applause, described on the cover as an essay, is made up of one and two page pieces that describe a scene, a collection, or Marceau himself. After reading this I want to know more about Marceau, but I already feel like I know him. The spirit of the man an ...more
First I want to say I love the title of this book. Then, more than that, the structure. At first I found it odd to call a 130-book an “essay,” it’s more a collection of multiple short, lyric essays on topics such as Marceau’s various collections of furniture or masks, his artistic routines, his experiences. Like his creation, Bip, he cuts a lonely figure who despite his love of abstraction might have been a bit of a hoarder, who might have overstayed his welcome on stage, who died with burdensom ...more
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-shopping
To be so pleasantly surprised by a book is such a wonderful thing! In describing a person who cannot be bound by words, Wen did a beautiful job of capturing Marceau's movement and spirit. ...more
Back in fall 2017 I went to the #fallforthebook festival and to several panel presentations there. Shawn Wen sat on a panel with another author that I had attended the panel to see and captivated me with her lyrical story of Marcel Marceau. I'm sure I had heard of MM before, but never really focused on his story, his art, or, well, him. This slim volume was a great introduction. Now I can't stop seeing references to him everywhere I look.

Part poetry, part prose, part list, this book is perhaps
A glimpse into the life of a mime. The sections with scenes were well written; I could picture the action of a black-and-white, painted mime in my mind. The sections involving collections or reading lists grew a little tedious, especially without some overarching narrative theme to bring those into the rest of the book. It was likely the author's choice, but the format seemed a little disjointed.

One section I really enjoyed involved this world-famous mime being the only one to recognize and hon
Gary Singh
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Such a fantastic little book. The life of Marcel Marceau, but told in short poetic essays. Or maybe they're essay-style journalistic fragments. Or historical outtakes and quantum biographical waves of delight. His eccentricities and sadnesses come shining through in glorious fashion. We get more than several pages about all the zonked-out collections in his house -- paintings, Japanese dolls, masks, antique boxes or 285 kilos of silver. He was a genius, icon, master, silent raconteur and art col ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: actually-though
I enjoyed it immensely, but also feel that I would not reread it, perhaps something to blame on the novelty of the genre risk-taking (was it risky? or correctly calculated and calibrated to please?), or the always-sneaking suspicion that anything novel is relying on its freshness for efficacy.

It has been tuned to a remarkably harmonious swath of poetic biography, along with a meditation on an aging artist and an aging art, a wisdom sat in form.
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I didn’t ever think I’d read a short book on the life of Marcel Marceau, the famous mime, but this book drew my attention, and reading a short passage in the store hooked me instantly.

This book is lively and fascinating, from the opening reveal that Marceau forged documents to save French children from the Nazis (while only a child himself) to the fabulously vivid descriptions of his famous scenes, to his death. Utterly engrossing. Loved it.
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Now this is the kind of nonfiction I like—lyrical, poetic, and wildly interesting. I prefer nonfictions written about someone other than the author, as those can often come across as self-pitying, but while Wen’s book has a few add-ins of opinion, it is entirely exploring the life and art of Marcel Marceau, the famous mime performer. A beautiful essay, with beautiful and clever craft moves that really make it shine.
May 26, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely, odd book about Marcel Marceau that came out of left field for me. I only had a vague idea of Marceau and his craft, and this book does a deep dive into his life and work, though in an impressionistic, almost poetic form. It’s divided into very short sections that are as likely to be a list of objects or a description of movement as they are to be narrative or explication. It’s a transporting read.
David Macpherson
An unique book about silence and mimes, but mostly a glimpse of Marcel Marceau. It is done a disjointed, collage like method and that worked. The description of mime works. At first I was annoyed by the endless sections of lists of items of collections that Marceau had. It felt like filler but by the end, it made sense. A lovely book.
Emily Ann
Dec 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love books with lyrical prose style that carry you along on the language as much as the story. This book constructs a portrait out of various snippets from the subject's life. You're pulled along by uncovering this fascinating character from theatrical history and treated to beautifully constructed phrases along the way. ...more
Feb 01, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Extremely beautiful writing. Wonderfully researched. Formally speaking, Wen’s book is pleasing! But ultimately, this is not a book for me. I found myself losing interest after awhile. Of course, this is merely subjective. Im glad to have learned a little something about Marceau and miming along the way, I guess!
Margaret Perkins
This was interesting. I've never read anything quite like it before - part poetry, part biography, part list, part performance. I enjoyed how the writing had the same blend of exaggeration and intricacy required in being a mime. I think the reason I'm not giving it more than three stars is because it was kind of sad. ...more
A great little book. I had the pleasure of seeing Marcel perform back in the 1970's and fondly remember Bip. ...more
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief segmented appreciation of Marcel Marceau. A unique and creative way of writing about one person's life. ...more
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely, quiet, amusing portrait of Marcel Marceau told in brief scenes of lyrical writing.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting collection of short essays about the professional life of Marcel Marceau. It was engaging and an interesting read.
Kevin Hodgson
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Innovative essay format with focus on most famous mime ever. Right?
Naomi Ruth
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very different from what I usually read, but very interesting and I absolutely adored the format.
2.5 stars. At times engaging, at times tedious.
Not entirely sure what I just read.

Inventive and inimitable, mirroring it's own subject. A subtle sadness threaded throughout.
Trevin McLaughlin
This was an interesting book. It’s a collection of poems and prose about Marcel Marceau. I wish I knew more about him before reading this piece. There are some interesting pieces in there.
I like little books, essays and short stories. Tight and pithy while free to explore and express.

Until now, Einstein's Dreams ranked as my favorite little book. Now, this one ties for first place. Literate and well done. Also, pithy and tight. Savor it.

Marcel Marceau, born in nineteen twenty-three, gave birth to his Bip in forty-seven. To make Bip seem more naive, he drew false eyebrows too high.

“Mime can do things that words cannot,” said Marcel Marceau. “Mime describes the metaphysical world
Had moments. Experimental lite.
Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
A layered and keenly observed meditation on silence and performance, A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause manages to capture the elusive mastery of Marcel Marceau's remarkable (and strange) performances. Wen's prose is supple and elliptical, leaving plenty of space for the reader to move through. ...more
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